‘Smart Martha’: How to do dishes and still have time for Jesus

GREER — She is the mother of nine; the oldest is a freshman in college and the youngest is just the other side of diapers. Having responsibility for that many kids, and all that goes with maintaining an extraordinarily busy household, would more than fill any parent’s day.

And, as Tami Kiser found out, it was a setup that left very little time in her life for spiritual growth. For her, it was a situation akin to the biblical story of Martha and Mary, where Martha is the perennial worrywart and Mary sits quietly listening for God’s inspiration.

“It’s important that we get the dishes done and take care of guests when they come to our home, but, on the other hand we want to spend time with Jesus,” Kiser said.

It was that Martha and Mary story that inspired Kiser to create what she calls the “Smart Martha” seminar, a four-hour gathering of a small group of primarily young mothers aimed at helping them set priorities in their busy lives and to be more like Mary and less like the harried Martha.

This month, Kiser has held two seminars in the Piedmont deanery, one sponsored by St. Mary Church in Greenville and the other by St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville. More than 50 women have attended the two seminars.

Liz McIntyre, a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene, said she heard Kiser while attending a seminar in Charlotte.

“I saw the response from the ladies who attended that seminar and the information (Kiser) presented was certainly important for me,” said McIntyre, who has three children and is expecting a fourth child this spring.

Kiser’s seminars include a workbook backed by a PowerPoint presentation that outlines ways that young mothers can manage the time God gives each of them in following their vocation as wives and mothers.  

“We need to complete all of our Martha tasks with a heart of Mary,” Kiser says early in the presentation. She suggests using “Martha-type” techniques to work on our “Maryness.” Those techniques would include scheduling prayer times and other activities during the day that will “feed your soul.”

She tells young mothers to “give yourself permission to listen when you hear Jesus talking.”

To help participants be more like Mary, Kiser asks the mothers to assess their family’s current activities — theirs, their children’s and their spouses’ — offering them tips on how to keep track of everyone’s “comings and goings.”  

Kiser then focuses on the household, again offering tips on how to keep “children and their messes” orderly and includes advice on managing everything from toys and Playstations to cell phones and messy bedrooms.  

She also wades into the household laundry, family meals and house cleaning during the seminar. The seminar includes breakout sessions, where smaller groups of mothers share experiences and ideas.

While McIntyre acknowledges that she doesn’t have as large a family as Kiser, she can still relate to the message.

“For me, when I’m doing housework I think that I should be praying, and when I’m praying I’m thinking that I should be getting my housework done,” McIntyre said. “It’s trying to find that balance. Having that faith journey is so important.”

Kiser and her husband, Keith, lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Mauldin seven years ago. The family attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.  

Smart Martha grew out of 10 years of presentations by Kiser at family conferences. She acquired a mountain of material over that time and combined it with her personal experiences over 20 years of marriage to create Smart Martha.

“Besides giving women the ‘how-to,’ I wanted to go more into the why — more of the spiritual part of it,” she said. “For some reason, the Mary and Martha story sort of struck me.”

Since doing a family conference in Charlotte last spring, Kiser has presented five Smart Martha seminars, all primarily in the local area. But the effort is about to go semi-national.

Next month, she travels to Dallas, Texas, for a seminar, with two others planned for her native state of Pennsylvania.

“It’s sort of spreading,” Kiser said. “Ideally, I want to talk to as many women as I can and get more feedback and more ideas.”

She said she eventually plans to put all of her material and what she has learned from the seminars into a book. But for now, and given her increasingly hectic schedule, Kiser knows she must work not to drift too far into the biblical Martha mode.

“So far, it’s been good because I’m being constantly reminded about how I’m supposed to live at home,” she said.

Kiser understands that every piece of her five-step plan to living more like Mary isn’t going to apply to every mother and that the effort is “an ongoing battle” that mothers will never totally win.

But she answers that dilemma in part with a quote from Mother Teresa: “We are not called to be successful, only faithful.”

For more information about the seminars go to www.SmartMartha.com.